We have experienced and achieved a lot since our founding in Essen back in 1923. We present an overview of almost 100 years of Phoenix Contact – defined by innovative technology, led by responsible people.
Founded in Essen
On May 5, 1923, businessman Hugo Knümann opens a commercial agency for industrial products in Essen, Germany: the Phönix Elektrizitätsgesellschaft Hugo Knümann GmbH & Co. KG. The company offices are at No. 36 Hollestraße directly next to Essen’s main railway station. Two floors of a rented building are used for storage, shipment, and assembly. But what does the experienced retailer and jeweler sell? Knümann has the right instinct: public transport is heavily used. The electric trams are working to full capacity and need overhead contact line mountings. They are the first commercial product sold by Phönix Elektrizitätsgesellschaft.
The invention of the terminal block
A few years after founding the company, Hugo Knümann meets a senior engineer at Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk, RWE for short. The company needs to meet the huge demand for electricity in the booming Ruhr area.
Their meeting results in the idea of alignable current terminals on a DIN rail. The invention of this terminal block is crucial for the industry. It makes it possible to replace only the defective part, and not the entire connection block, in the event of small defects. This saves materials and time.
The fast-selling product is assembled and sold in the Essen area. The clamping part is made of metal, while the housing is ceramic. Knümann has the necessary parts made by a supplier. In 1928, Hugo Knümann is awarded the patent for the terminal block.
The move to Blomberg
Outbreak of World War II in 1939. Due to the armaments industry, the Ruhr area is the target of many air raids. The company offices near Essen’s main railway station are also bombed on March 13, 1943, prompting Hugo Knümann to evacuate the company to a different location. With the help of relatives, Knümann makes the 200 km move to the small town of Blomberg situated in the Ostwestfalen-Lippe region. Business operations continue in the empty “Bürgerheim” inn. The office is located downstairs, with assembly and storage upstairs.
At the end of the war, the commercial team returns to Essen, while the assembly and storage side of the business remains in Blomberg.
First contact with the Eisert family
While the company is doing well, there is a fateful encounter in store for Hugo Knümann. Through a mutual patent attorney, he makes the acquaintance of electrical power engineer Josef Eisert. Knümann manages to enlist Eisert, who owned numerous terminal block patents, as Technical Director for his company. Josef Eisert joins the company in 1949 and revises the entire product range. This lays the foundation for the company’s continued success.
In 1937, Knümann also employs Ursula Lampmann in a clerical role. She does such a good job that at just 23 years of age she becomes an authorized representative in 1943.
On the death of Hugo Knümann in 1953, Josef Eisert and Ursula Lampmann take over the management of the company. Two years later, the company is operating under the new name, Phönix Klemmen.
The first production hall
Josef Eisert sees the huge potential of in-house production. The first factory facilities are built at the Flachsmarkt site in Blomberg in 1957. Hall 1 houses tool engineering, plastics manufacturing, the screw turning shop, assembly, operating technology, storage, and shipping facilities.
In 1966, the company management moves from Essen back to Blomberg. The newly constructed four-story management building makes the company headquarters complete.
The birth of the Phoenix Contact Group
The stamped and pressed parts for production are supplied by Noelle & Berg from the nearby Sauerland region. As an affiliated company, the Lüdenscheid-based company (now called Phoenix Feinbau) becomes the exclusive supplier to Phönix Elektrizitätsgesellschaft. Many more collaborations follow – the beginnings of the Phoenix Contact Group.
In the 1960s, Josef Eisert’s three sons, Klaus, Jörg, and Gerd, join the company. On the death of Josef Eisert in 1975, the three brothers together with Ursula Lampmann take over the management of the company. Klaus, an engineer by trade, manages sales and product development, while fellow engineer Jörg heads up production and businessman Gerd is in charge of exports. When Jörg Eisert is killed in a road traffic accident on the way to Lüdenscheid in 1979, Klaus Eisert also takes on the management of production.
Electronics makes an entrance
During the 1970s and 1980s, electronics feature increasingly in the control cabinet and the product portfolio is therefore also developed with electronics in mind. First, the PCB terminal block makes its way into the control cabinet where it proves to be an effective connection element for the electronics located there. PCB connectors, relays, converters, power supplies, and many other electronic products follow. However, these electronics are also sensitive to electromagnetic interference. Lightning, as well as switching operations and electrostatic discharge, can destroy electronic systems completely. Surge protection products are therefore added to our product portfolio in 1983.
The first international subsidiaries
In 1981, Gerd Eisert launches an international sales network and subsidiaries are founded in Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA. This international focus is also reflected in the new company name. Phönix Klemmen becomes Phoenix Contact. The international name makes the brand and the service commitment universal.
Each year that passes sees the creation of yet another new international subsidiary. Today, Phoenix Contact is represented in over 50 countries by its own sales companies. In addition, products are manufactured in 11 countries with high-level vertical integration.
Entry into the world of automation technology
With the unveiling of the INTERBUS fieldbus system at the Hannover Messe in 1987, Phoenix Contact breaks into the world of automation technology. The network for serial data transmission offers cross-system openness from the sensor to the controller and is used to automate production plants.
In 1994, a key location is founded in Bad Pyrmont in the form of Phoenix Contact Electronics. The new subsidiary specializes in the development and production of electronic modules and automation technology.
The new Executive Board
Shareholders appoint four new Members of the Management Board in 2001, and they are made General Managers in 2005: Roland Bent for Marketing and Development, Prof. Dr. Gunther Olesch for Personnel, IT, and Legal Affairs, Frank Stührenberg for Sales, and Dr. Heinz Wesch for Technology. The fifth General Manager is Dr. Martin Heubeck who has been responsible for Finance since 2003.
Gerd Eisert dies in 2001. His brother, Klaus, initially remains at the helm of the company as the sole Managing Partner. He resigns from this role in 2015 and devotes his time to the founding of an Advisory Board. Frank Stührenberg takes over as Chief Executive Officer of the Phoenix Contact Group. The newly established Advisory Board commences work in 2016. It is on hand to assist the Executive Board in an advisory capacity.
The first billions
Phoenix Contact’s turnover exceeds one billion Deutschmarks at the beginning of the new millennium. It is the same story in 2007, but this time in euros. International markets now account for more than half of sales. Phoenix Contact has established itself as a global market leader in electrical engineering and automation. The number of employees is now also approaching the 10,000 mark.
The company won’t have to wait long to hit two billion. Just 10 years later, in November 2017, Roland Bent and Frank Stührenberg announce that the company’s turnover has exceeded two billion euros – another huge milestone for Phoenix Contact.
The Phoenix Contact Group grows
The company grows steadily in the 1990s. After reunification, the German sales network is expanded into the new federal states. The independent testing institute, Phoenix Testlab, is founded in Blomberg in 1994.
Additional sales subsidiaries are founded across all continents. A subsidiary is also created in Nanjing, China – the company’s second largest subsidiary after the USA.
New subsidiaries continue to be added to the Group in Germany as well as internationally to this day. The Phoenix Contact Group currently includes 15 German companies as well as four international companies.
There has also been a dynamic development in “New Businesses” since 2013. Starting with the founding of a subsidiary for e-mobility, the New Businesses now also include companies for 3D printing, cloud solutions, and much more.
The age of Industry 4.0
Phoenix Contact has been involved in Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) since the 2010s. The digitalization of products, production technology, and production processes plays an important role in the optimization of complex manufacturing processes using new technologies. Together with customers and partners, we design solutions for the future and enable the digital transformation of our world into the intelligent production of tomorrow.
The start of a new decade
Since 2020, we have been grappling the concept of the All Electric Society. The All Electric Society is a vision for tackling the greatest challenges facing humanity: the fight against climate change and safeguarding sustainable development. The key to making this vision a reality is the comprehensive electrification, networking, and automation of all sectors of the economy and infrastructure. Phoenix Contact already offers products and solutions that can be used for development stages right through to the All Electric Society, thereby enabling industry and society to progress towards this vision.